UK 2016 Vintage Report #1 – April

A short blog now just to kick-off a diary of my vines in the run up to the 2016 harvest.  Like last year, whilst this content may only be of limited interest to readers around the globe, it will enable me to look back in the future and compare progress year on year.  In the spirit of this limited accessibility, I will keep the notes accordingly brief.

TwitPic 2016 Harvest KO

It was a month ago today that I noted and photographed my Chardonnay vines awakening from their winter slumber and so, as the longer days set in and Spring begins to truly take hold, I thought it would be a suitable first checkpoint to note the progress.  The weather remains fairly cool with temperatures in the 10-16° range, some days of heavy rain, sporadic sun, and no frosts.

2016 UK vines M1

Both the Chardonnay and Ortega seem to be at the same stage with the topper most leaves beginning to appear, and buds forming all the way down the canes.

2016 UK vines M1 v2

My third variety is a little further behind and this could be because it is not from the Denbies winery nursery like the others are, but it could also be for another reason!  I purchased the rootstock believing it to be Catarratto but last year, as you can see from the picture below, it bore red grapes (and suffered with serious millerandage), which means it clearly isn’t the variety I expected it to be.

2016 UK vines M1 v3

I now have no idea what variety it is, and hope that, as it has been planted for three years now, I can make some wine with it this year and see what characteristics it gives off.

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UK 2015 vine growth report: August

Here’s a quick update on my vines as we approach the middle of the month, and the lead-up to picking in approximately 8 weeks’ time. Both the Chardonnay and Ortega have failed to give any fruit – these are my newest vines and not yet 3 years in the ground, so this is to be expected. I had begun the season hopeful, especially with the Chardonnay which was very healthy, budded early, and showed characteristic vigour but, alas, it will have to wait until next year.

This leaves my Catarratto, which has been equally as vigorous as the Chardonnay. Many bunches are forming well – some individual grapes growing faster than others (as can be seen in the below picture). At this point I have in the back of my mind the word ‘millerandage’ which concerns bunches forming of grapes of different size and maturity, but all seem to be at the same stage of ripeness, so for now I believe that it is simply part of the growth process.

Catarratto in August

Now my full concentration is on the one variety, the next month will all be about getting the water availability right, as well as any canopy trimming I need to carry out. The weather since my last report has been more aligned to a British summer with many instances of rain (one extremely heavy day) and, whilst we have still seen warm days in the late teens / early twenties celcius, there has been widespread and continued cloud cover. More rain is forecasted ahead.

That said, all my winemaking equipment is sitting waiting to go, and I have my refractometer on standby!

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UK 2015 vine growth report: July

Time now for a quick status check on how my vines are progressing. As I write, the weather has clouded over but has lost little of the warmth, and days are regularly seeing temperatures in the low twenties. We had two days of rain last week which was the first of any consequence in quite a while. The end of June / start of July is home to two British institutions both known as much for what they are, as for the impact of the usual rain, but music fans at the Glastonbury festival didn’t need their wellies this year. Similarly, the Wimbledon tennis championship keeps a day clear (middle Sunday) to allow matches to catch up from rain delays. This year, it wasn’t needed. On to the vines themselves.

                    Month 3 vines v1

Furthest along is my Catarratto, which continues to show good vigour, and is now in the late stages of flowering. My Chardonnay continues showing its characteristic high vigour with vines going off in all directions, and the Ortega has grown slightly, albeit still far behind the other varieties. My concern with these latter two now focuses on the fact that they are not showing any signs of late flowering. Both are early budding and early ripening, so well suited to our cooler climate, but with only approximately 12 weeks to go until harvest, I think they should be more advanced by now (especially with the warm weather we’ve been having). As the vines are not yet 3 years old, perhaps there will be a limited crop from them this year, and I will concentrate on the older Catarratto vines.

                  Month 3 vines v2

Also of interest is that the Ortega shows a white powder on its leaves which quickly disappears once they are full exposed.  Detailed growing notes on this variety are a little hard to find, so I’m not sure if that’s a well-known characteristic, but hopefully it is nothing to worry about and, apart from some darkening of some of the older leaves (due to water stress), the vine looks healthy. I’m definitely going to step up the watering at this crucial time as the weather forecast for the next few weeks is still warm, if not sunny.

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UK 2015 vine growth report: Two months in

It’s been just over two months now since my vines started their 2015 journey, and so here’s a further entry as to their progress, which will make interesting reading at the end of the season, and also year on year. If you want to remind yourself of the last progress entry, you can find it here.

The warm and sunny weather continues here in Berkshire and, although there was hail on one particular day, it was mercifully short in duration. As you will see from the pictures below, my Chardonnay is coming along nicely and has virtually doubled/tripled in height and a number of new vines have sprouted. Leaf canopies are also well established and growing well. It’s a similar situation for my Cataratto, which is also thriving, despite being in a slightly shadier position.

Month 2 Vines

 (l-r Chardonnay, Ortega, Catarratto)

The same cannot be said for the Ortega which, although it has seen progress, still seems fairly muted in its growth and is currently resembling something like a bush vine rather than one being trained. If it doesn’t speed up its growth in the next few weeks I think I’m going to have to do some digging to find out what its general lifecycle looks like. Being a Germanic variety and used to cool weather I thought it would be enjoying the unseasonal warm spell we are having, but clearly not.

To ensure I give all the vines every chance, I’ve replaced the trellising as promised, in readiness for when the grapes arrive and bring extra weight later in the season. This new trellising, which mimics those used professionally, should allow extra breezes through, hinder pests (my previous lattice trellising would have been easy for them to scale up), and allow sunshine to penetrate all sides of the vines.

As I write, the weather is a glorious 24° centigrade, with more of the same planned for tomorrow. Long may it continue!

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UK 2015 vine growth report: One month in

As one month has just passed since my vines awoke from their winter slumber, I thought I would give a quick update as to how my 2015 UK growing season is progressing. I’m located in Newbury, Berkshire and so that means I’m just above 51° latitude north, stretching right in to the limits of grape ripening. The UK is well known for the marginal climate and a pre-dispensation for rain, but this year has seen a milder winter in the south where I am. Although many part of the south did see occasional snow in February, we’ve not had any here for the first time in a few years, and I’ve been able to count the frosts so far on one hand. Indeed, late March and the start of April saw some unseasonably warm weather (some days even nudging up to the early twenties in celcius). This no doubt helped along bud break for my vines which I spotted on April the 8th. So, one month in, how are we doing?

Chardonnay            Chardonnay

Ortega           Ortega

Catarratto           Catarratto

As you can see from the above pictures, all are coming along nicely, with numerous buds growing per pruned cane, and good leaf canopies forming. For background, I’m growing three different varieties: Chardonnay, Ortega and Catarratto, meaning I have French, German and Italian vines in operation. In terms of furthest along in growth, that would go to the Chardonnay, but in terms of vigour, the Catarratto has it.  Vines were only planted last year, so we’re still in the bedding down phase in which all produce will be purely for academic and experimental use, but seeing the good start to growth this year means they’ve all settled in nicely. The vine stock was obtained from Denbies vineyard in Surrey, who are amongst the leading UK wine producers, so is from a good home.

The above will hopefully be of interest to those readers outside of the UK, or perhaps even those in the southern hemisphere who want to see how we’re moving along here. It will also serve to remind me in the future how things progress through the 2015 vintage, which looks to be a good one.

p.s – I’m aware that I need to sort my trellising out – it was a quick fix option at the time, and it will be replaced!

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